Reception Brings Penn Students, Financial Aid Donors Together

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Media Contact:Julie S. McWilliams | | 215-898-1422November 29, 2012

Two senior undergraduate scholarship recipients at the University of Pennsylvania shared their personal collegiate journeys as they and more than 250 other scholarship beneficiaries met with their benefactors and guests at the Fall 2012 Scholarship Celebration this month.  It was an evening of making acquaintances, renewing friendships and cementing bonds.

For 15 years, students who are attending Penn through the generosity of alumni and other donors have been invited to meet the people who help to make their education possible.  Twenty people attended the first reception in 1997, and now more than 500 attend the biannual receptions, one held on campus in the fall, the other in New York in the spring.

Penn President Amy Gutmann introduced the student speakers and was later joined by alumnus George Weiss who, speaking as a trustee, chair of the Making History campaign and supporter of scholarships, talked about the value scholarship donors bring to Penn and its students.

Wharton senior Steven Levick and Nursing senior Amber Stark spoke about their Penn experiences, in remarks that were at times poignant individual stories, at other times universally familiar. 

Levick talked about finding his place at Penn, and it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

“I began to struggle in my coursework and I had several setbacks and made a few mistakes,” he said. “I even began to wonder what at one time felt unimaginable. ‘Do I deserve to be at Penn? Is Penn the right place for me?’  

“In the midst of my slump, I confided my self-doubts to one of my favorite Penn professors,” Levick continued. “As any good Penn professor would do, he gave me an assignment….  I decided to reframe the questions that had weighed on me previously. Instead of, ‘Is Penn the right place for me,’ I asked, ‘How will I make Penn the perfect place for me?’ The answer was not so hard: commit, without any reservations, to the things I loved at Penn.”

His “place” came to include his role as student manager for the basketball team, his work-study job in the President’s Office and perhaps most important, his ever-increasing role with a financial-literacy program in West Philadelphia schools, which he now co-directs and has led to a grant-funded Wharton research project.

Emotions also ran high as Stark told the group how much her scholarship, provided by Penn parents who lost their Nursing student daughter to cancer, meant to her.

“My desire to be a nurse came about when I saw nurses really connecting with the patients and their families,” she said of her volunteer experience back in Dallas.  “Penn seemed the ideal place to combine my desire to connect and give back to people with my ambition to challenge myself intellectually.”

When the economy took a nosedive, Stark said she almost went to another school.  It was a Penn Previews session that changed her mind, when she heard Lauren and Douglas Spiker share the story of their daughter Melissa Sengbusch, who waged a two-year battle with a rare bone-marrow malignancy.

“Her courage and conviction for nursing was why I could not see myself anywhere but Penn and decided to become a part of the 2013 class,” Stark explained. “After accepting admission at Penn, I was informed that I would be the recipient of the Melissa Sengbusch Inspirational Scholarship.” 

“Her scholarship is so much more than financial support,” Stark said, noting that she has bonded with her donor family.  “It gives me extra encouragement to know that someone is counting on me to become the best nurse that I can be and that they are willing to help me attain my goals.

Those who are chosen to make remarks at the donor reception are senior named-scholarship recipients who compete in and win the student-speaker contest.

All domestic and international scholarship donors are invited to the fall reception, Katie Monsky, senior associate director of development, explained, while the New York event is primarily for the large number of Penn scholarship donors who live in New York and the Northeast.

“The mood is festive, it’s a lively, warm event,” Monsky said. “There’s a lot of energy. Some donors attend often and meet up not only with their scholarship recipients but with friends and classmates.  Many students know each other or get to know each other through the event.

“It is emotional, and the personal conversations are engaging,” she added. “Strong bonds are formed. So many have close relationships.”

To see photos and videos from the reception, click here.